A Big Bang Blog

Monday, August 15, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Our topic this week is the Big Bang – Before and After. It’s another episode in our series "A Philosophical Guide to the Cosmos."

Now they say that the Big Bang gave birth to the entire universe. So you might think that the Big Bang must have been one hell of an explosion. But technically speaking, the Big Bang wasn’t actually an explosion at all. It couldn’t have been. An explosion involves a rapid expansion outward from a center. Like when a bomb or a grenade goes off and you get matter and energy being thrown outward in all directions. But despite popular misconceptions, nothing like that happened in the Big Bang. Nothing like that could possibly have happened. Not literally. Notions like “outward” or “center” only apply to things that happen in a place. The Big Bang didn’t happen in a place. Where did the big bang happen then? Nowhere! There was no place where the Big Bang happened. Of course, everything subsequent to the Big Bang happened somewhere. But not the Big Bang itself because the Big Bang is what created space in the first place.

Now commonsense has it that space isn’t created at all. Space is just sort of eternally there. And it’s not just commonsense that sees space that way. So did Newton. He saw space as sort of like this infinite pre-existing absolute container that encompasses all matter. Though modern physics doesn’t think of space that way anymore, it’s hard to get past that way of thinking. For example, if we put modern physics aside for a second and ask where space could possibly come to an end, the imagination boggles at the very idea. I mean what would be on the other side of the end of space? Even modern cosmology might seem to tacitly buy into that notion of infinite container space. After all, it says that universe is expanding. But what is the universe expanding into, one might ask, if not into some some pre-existing empty space?

The problem is that cosmology doesn’t really buy that particular conception of “expanding.” Indeed, I’ve heard cosmologist say that a better metaphor for what the universe is doing isn’t exactly expanding but “stretching.” It’s stretching because space is, in a sense, still being created—14 billion years after the Big Bang. And it’s being created everywhere—between galaxies, within solar systems, even within atoms. That’s why everything in the universe is sort of being “pushed” further and further away from everything else in the universe. And, thanks to dark energy, at an ever increasing rate, it turns out. The only reason that so-called bounded things like atoms and our bodies aren’t stretching out with the rest of the universe is that the various attractive forces acting on us swamp the “repulsive” ones.

Let’s shift gears and think about time for a bit. Cosmologists say that there was no time before the Big Bang.You might think that means that just as there was no space where the Big Bang happened, there was also no time when it happened. But it doesn’t mean that at all. The big bang happened about 13.7 billion years ago. At the same time, they say that the big bang “created” time. So how can there be a time at which the Big Bang happened? The answer is that the Big Bang can be regarded as sort of the absolute zero of time. It’s the point to which all the many relativistic timelines in the universe converge, the point before which they agree that there are no other times.

That’s clear enough, I think, but it does raise another question. If there was no time before the big bang, how could there have been a cause of the Big Bang? Ordinarily, we think that causes precede their effects in time. Nothing preceded the Big Bang. Ergo….  But if there was no cause of the Big Bang (in time) where exactly did it come from? Where could it have come from? It’s not just that scientist don’t know the answer to that one. It seems as though perhaps they can’t possibly know the answer. When we reach for explanations beyond Big Bang, we’re reaching beyond the limits of science.   

Now one might be tempted to respond that, well, maybe our old familiar concepts of space, time, matter, and even cause and effect break down at the Big Bang, but one thing that science is really good at doing is thinking up strange new concepts to help us to better understand things that at first seem incomprehensible. The problem with this possible response is that concepts like space, time, cause, effect, matter, etc. aren’t just any old concepts. They are the very concepts we do science with in the first place. They are what Kant might have called the transcendental concepts, the concepts that underlie all further concepts.   

Maybe, we just have to face the fact that there is a limit to the power to solve all the ultimate mysteries of the universe. I don’t by any mean mean to suggest though that we should necessarily fall back on religion, where science falters. Although some do think that. Still, I’m not necessarily willing to place all my bets on science just yet. But at the same time, I’m not willing to bet against science either. Put me down in the “let’s wait and see where this goes, column.”

Comments (7)


mirugai's picture

mirugai

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

SILENCE THE BANG 8.16

SILENCE THE BANG 8.16
 Once again, the real question is not ?How do you explain the BigBang,? but ?Why do you think everything needs an explanation?? If every concept you use to describe the BB defies ?a priori-ness,? why continue building a structure that has no real foundation or internal integrity? I?ll tell you why, because you are bamboozled by science and your own insecurity into a belief (science as religion) that ?explanations? (even implausible ones) provide security and confirmation and social success.
 But the enterprise of explaining the BB is plain old fun, and full of wonderful strange imagery and contradiction of the senses. So, as they say in the restaurant business, ?Enjoy.? I enjoy hearing the subject talked about, too.
 The expanding ?universe? (only the ?tiny? part we can measure, certainly) and the ?red shift? can be explained better and more plausibly, in my view, by a contracting/expanding theory, with the great unknown (as you all admit, ?it just ?is?) force, gravity, at the center of it all, where it should be. Then all of physics as it is understood today, is at work nicely. The expand/contract theory also helps with time and space theories that BB depends on rewriting.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Ever try to count out how

Ever try to count out how long it takes to fill a jug of water? Or, knowing about how fast the water flows, counting out how long the kettle is under the tap to regulate how full it is? The inclination is to put the container under the flow and start counting from "one" simultaneously. We tend to forget the zero. The thing is, there is no mathematical function that can get us away from the zero. Numbers don't even exist or have any determining meaning over anything until something non-numerical intercedes, by receding. Logicians mathematicians, and even physicists, now long practiced in convoluted realities, cannot supply the deficiency. But all you need is that deficiency, and, BANG, time begins. All you need, is need. The content of time is discontent.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Time. Space. Vast topics for

Time. Space. Vast topics for discussion, argument, disagreement, and occasionally, accord. I used to argue, with metaphysicals and scientists alike, regarding the meaningless of time, other than as a frame of reference for all things eternal and ephemeral. We could never seem to reach consensus---any of us, because there were always different agendas; different expectations, and, certainly, the element of who would "win" the argument with either the soundest intellectual grounding or the most irrefutable scientific evidences and proofs. Clearly, I was out of the BB loop, inasmuch as a Big Bang meant little to someone who denigrated the importance of its most important product: (t-i-m-e, if you have not been following). But, we all need SOMETHING to occupy our time and make us feel worthwhile. Scientists need science. Philosophers need philosophy. Metaphysicians, metaphysics, and so on. So, Gary has hit upon it, hasn't he? Need. Yes, we all need need. Need = purpose, more or less. Suppose, though, that time actually did exist, a priori the Big Bang? Well, now, that could be another barrel of fish hooks.
I rebuild and restore outcast bicycles these days, when I have the time. And, that's just alright with me.
Nice to know you are still around, Mirugai---long life and prosperity,
Neuman

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Purpose doesn't help. It has

Purpose doesn't help. It has a defining beginning and end. Same prob. The ends of time can't define each other. They need each other free. "I must go on! I can't go on! I'll go on!" (Becket)
Awe, go on!

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, August 21, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Hii, Ken Taylor I really like

Hii, Ken Taylor I really like the concepts that you shared with us. Warm thanks to you for sharing such an informative and interesting post. so keep sharing such a wonderful post.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Picked up Sean Carroll's The

Picked up Sean Carroll's The Big Picture today at my local library. Have often wondered what the big picture truly is or if it even exists. Perhaps Mr. Carroll can tell me. In any case, it will make for entertaining reading (I hope).
HGN

apek's picture

apek

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

The expanding ?universe?

The expanding ?universe? (only the ?tiny? part we can measure, certainly) and the ?red shift? can be explained better and more plausibly, in my view, by a contracting/expanding theory, with the great unknown (as you all admit, ?it just ?is?) force, gravity, at the center of it all, where it should be. Then all of physics as it is understood today, is at work nicely. The expand/contract theory also helps with time and space theories that BB depends on rewriting. Very useful post and i really like your work! thanks a lot or sharing!

 
 
 

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